What happens when you put a school in the confines of a zoo?

Can you imagine getting on a school bus and being dropped off at the zoo? Not for a field trip, but every day!? At SAMi exhibits are classrooms and the notion of “hands-on learning” takes on new meaning.

Tacoma Public Schools redefines immersion based learning via three innovative high schools: Tacoma School of Arts (SOTA), School of Industrial Design Engineering and Art (iDEA), and the Science and Math Institute (SAMi). Each emphasize project-based learning via community partnerships with small businesses and cultural organizations which include the University of Washington Tacoma, Tacoma Community College, Metro Park Tacoma, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State History Museum, the Museum of Glass, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Fort Nisqually, the Metro Parks Marina, and the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.

“Partner organizations provide internships, gallery space, mentoring, student projects, community involvement, and performance spaces for SOTA, SAMi and iDEA students. These unique environments encourage students to take ownership of their education and become an integral part of the community.”

— The Science and Math Institute

SAMi was founded in 2009 when Tacoma Public Schools partnered with Metro Parks Tacoma to create a first-of-its-kind, shared learning community at Point Defiance Park Zoo and Aquarium where students “learn by doing”. Meaning, they placed a high school within the confines of a zoo. How cool, right?

SAMi is located on a 706-acre park where 400 ninth through twelfth grade students attend school. The latest addition to the campus is SAMi’s Environmental Learning Center. Centrally located where the zoo and forest meet (next to the goats and up the road from the musk ox exhibit), the new 30,000 SF center includes eight formal learning settings, communal space for collaborative and interpretive activities, and workspace for school and zoo educators to work side-by-side with students. Pathways lead to multiple access points, but the standout feature is an elevated pedestrian bridge that meanders through the tree canopies, inviting students and visitors to the center’s main entrance.

Check out the videos to discover what makes this school so unique:

SAMi Environmental Learning Center Project Team:
McGranahan Architects Architect
FORMA Construction Co General Contractor
Coughlin Porter Lundeen Civil Engineers
PCS Structural Solutions Structural Engineers
Hargis Engineers Electrical Engineer
Metrix Engineers Mechanical Engineer
Cascade Design Collaborative Landscape Designer